Yom Rivii, 21 Tammuz 5779
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Parashat Noach 2011

Parashat Noach by Rabbi Sandra Kviat
28 October 2011


In life, you discover that people are called by three names: One is the name the person is called by his father and mother; one is the name people call him; and one is the name he acquires for himself. The best one is the one he acquires for himself’ 
(Tanchuma, Vayak'heil 1)

Names are important, they can tell us about a person’s background, history, family etc. The names of biblical characters foretell the life of a person, for example Jacob the one who grabbed the heel of his brother becomes the usurper, it can describe a character or event, Isaac  is from the root ‘laughter’ because Sara laughed when she heard that she would finally have a child,  or it can express the hope of a parent for their child.  Noah’s name is derived from the root ‘to rest or remain’ and so alludes to his survival of the flood, and his son who is cursed is called Ham ‘hot/heat’ perhaps for his rash actions that earns him his curse.  Naming something or someone orders chaos, so that when Adam names all the animals as well as his female companion he organises the unorganised. When we name we create a sense of order and we establish relationships.

This weeks parasha opens with a strange double naming: This is the line of Noah Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 9.1). We could see it as merely a matter of punctuation; ‘This is the line of Noah. - Noah was a righteous man’, but it is odd/striking that the text does not continue ‘…he was a righteous man’, but instead chooses to mention Noah’s name immediately again. This has raised the question of who is the firstborn of Noah, is it his son Shem who is mentioned in the following verse or is it Noah himself? Due to the circumstances that Noah found himself in in the Torah text, i.e. a time of moral corruption, he had to decide who he was, and therefore this double naming might indicate that Noah chose who he was going to be and how he was going to be known.

Through the choices that we make and how we live our lives each one of us name and rename ourselves. In so doing we honour our traditions, the people who name us and ourselves.